Book warns of silent crisis in Winnipeg low-income housing

Winnipeggers are paying more and more for housing that is infested with vermin and bedbugs, according to the new book Poor Housing: A Silent Crisis.

Symposium and book launch put spotlight on dilapidated housing in inner city

A new report looking at housing in Winnipeg says the lack of decent, affordable housing in Winnipeg has raised rents across the city. (Courtesy of Bryan Scott)

A lack of decent, affordable housing in Winnipeg is forcing residents to live in cold, mice-ridden and bedbug-infested apartments, says Jim Silver, chair of the University of Winnipeg's urban and inner-city studies program.

Not only that, renters are paying more and more to lease the bad housing, Silver said.

"The shortage of decent, quality, low-income rental" is "driving up rental rates so many low-income people are really struggling," he said.

Silver is co-editor of the new book Poor Housing: A Silent Crisis, a collection of essays by Silver, co-editor Josh Brandon and others released Wednesday night in Winnipeg. A public symposium based on the book's findings takes place on Thursday at the West End Commons.

Rent costs in Winnipeg have increased 55 to 65 per cent since 2000, according to Brandon. That means the average two-bedroom apartment that once cost a family $600 per month now costs the same family $1000. Wages and social assistance increases have not kept pace with rising rents.

Even the cheapest housing options in the city today cost more than 50 per cent of total incomes for families receiving Employment and Income Assistance, the book states.

Private landlords unable to fill the gap

"The core of the problem is that some 95 per cent of housing in Canada is produced by private, for-profit builders and developers, and they do not build low-income rental housing because there is not enough profit, if any, in doing so," state Silver and Brandon. 
Bed bugs and mice infest many affordable housing units in Winnipeg says the co-editor of a new book launched Wednesday in Winnipeg, called "Poor Housing: A Silent Crisis."

Real change will only come with the involvement of the federal government, said Silver.

"We have to have government involvement, providing subsidies of one kind or another, in order for good-quality, low-income housing to be built," he said.

In prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau's election platform, the Liberals promised a 10-year investment of nearly $20 billion in "social infrastructure," which includes affordable housing.

"This investment will renew federal leadership in housing, help build more housing units and refurbish existing ones," the platform document states.

The party also promised to undertake a review of available federal lands and buildings that could be repurposed into housing stock.

Silver said the promises make him "cautiously hopeful."

Good news in Winnipeg

"We can see a lot of successful things [in Winnipeg]," Silver said.

Manitoba Housing's reimagining of Lord Selkirk Park and the West End Commons are examples of public investment that has created safe, high-quality places to live. Winnipeg's West End Commons is a 26-unit community housing project built in a 100-year-old church.

The Lord Selkirk redevelopment project saw Manitoba Housing transform a North End building once known as a "war zone," complete with boarded-off units, into safer apartments with full occupancy and a wait-list.

"I think Manitoba Housing is part of the good news," said Silver. "It's evidence that we can turn these things around if the community gets together and works in a direction defined by those who are living in these places, and the government invests."


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